Where did New Zealand’s birds and animal like kiwi, kea, kakapo, possums, sheep, etc. come from?

New Zealand is an island country that comprises two main landmasses, the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui), and the South Island (Te Waipounamu), and about 600 smaller islands covering a total area of 268,021 square kilometers. The country has various topography with sharp mountain peaks, which includes the Southern Alps. Wellington, the capital city, is the most populous city in Auckland.

The islands of New Zealand were the last vast habitable lands to be settled by humans, due to their remoteness. Between about 1280 and 1350, Polynesians began to settle in the islands and developed a distinctive Māori culture.

Before humans inhabited New Zealand, less than 900 years ago, the country was mostly free of mammals. Only species that could swim have lived, like seals, sea lions, and whales. Bats were also able to inhabit the island.  However, the existence of terrestrial Saint Bathans Mammal, implied that mammals were present since the island separated from other landmasses.

It means either insects or birds occupied all the ecological niches occupied by mammals elsewhere.


In the absence of humans, it would have been a noisy place. Birds were free dominating the area, and as they evolved, wings became unnecessary. They need not fly away because there were no predators to hunt them. This resulted in the native birds on New Zealand like kakapo parrot, kiwi, moa, takahe, and weka to become flightless.

The settlement of Maori and Europeans brought predators like rats, and stoats, and started the hunting of birds. It eventually caused the loss of habitat and the extinction of some bird species. (https://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/new-zealand-flora-and-fauna/)

Kiwi (https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/)

When talking about New Zealand, you will not skip what kiwi has to do with the country as it became its national symbol. It is a nocturnal, flightless bird with hair-like feathers, strong legs, and nostrils found at the end of its large beak. There are five species of kiwi, and it can live between 25-50 years. However, it is now strongly protected and preserved from extinction.

New Zealanders were also called ‘Kiwis’ since Australian soldiers gave the nickname during the First World War.

Kea (http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kea)

The kea is an unusual parrot. It is large and has a slender grey-black bill, olive-green with scarlet underwings, and is strong-flying. Female kea has a shorter bill, is sexually dimorphic, its body mass is 20% less than males.  Juvenile kea has a yellow cere and eyelids, which turns grey as it matures. Their sounds are less stable in tone, and more of a loud uncontrolled whooping or squealing.

It is the sole genuine alpine parrot in the world and gained early ill repute among farmer settlers for the attack on their sheep. By nature, keas are curious and attracted to people whenever they enter their territory in the mountains. This behavior is like a two-edged sword, providing both new threats and new opportunities.

Kakapo (http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kakapo)

The kakapo looks like an own but has a pale face; it is a larger parrot that dwells in forests. It has color moss green mottled with yellow and black above, and similar but more yellow bellow. The bill is grey, as well as the legs and feet, but only with pale soles.

They are nocturnal and lek-breeding parrots that are also critically endangered. With the arrival of humans and other mammals, in the mid-1990s, they had reached a low point of about 50 birds only.  But the transfer of the whole population to predator-free islands and intensive intervention in every stage of life resulted in the steady increase of its numbers.

Kakapo has no close relatives, but it has similar species like kaka and kea, which they are most likely to be confused with.

Possum (https://predatorfreenz.org/resources/introduced-predator-facts/possum-facts/)

In 1837, some European settlers brought Australian possums to New Zealand. Possums are tree-living marsupials, and the most common species are the Brushtails.

Initially, they did not survive, but the people kept trying until the first population made it in 1858 at Southland. However, the government made it illegal to bring more of the species in New Zealand by 1921 because they became pests. But the possums kept on spreading, and in 1950 they were found in over half of the land.

Indeed, New Zealand is home to unique wildlife, especially of bird species that are only native to the land. It might be a question on where they came from since the island has long been isolated. The big question now is not where they came from, but where they are heading since many of them are becoming endangered.  If you happen to see these animals, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.